I am very much in favour of the idea to promote more interest in short stories. A good short story – and there are some very good short stories out there – can stay with you for much longer than a novel. It can startle, ignite, illuminate and move in a way that the longer format cannot. It is often troubling, often frightening or subversive. It provokes questions, whereas most novels merely try to answer them. And of all the books I have read and loved, I find that it is the short stories I remember most clearly, those vivid, anarchic glimpses into different worlds, different people.
Some of them trouble me, even now. I still worry about what happened to Ray Bradbury’s ‘Pedestrian’. I still cry over Roger Zelazny’s ‘Rose for Ecclesiastes’. I still get the shivers when I remember Jerome Bixby’s ‘It’s a Good Life’. And every time I catch the Tube, I feel a sense of unreasonable disquiet, which is largely due to a story called ‘A Subway Named Moebius’, even though I was twelve when I last read it, and I cannot even remember the author’s name.
Alexander McCall Smith
Every short story is a distillation of a world. National Short Story Week will help to remind us of that. I hope that it will be a great success and will help to spread the immense pleasure that short stories can give.
I would like to recommend Somerset Maugham’s ‘The Outstation’. This is a most powerful short story by a writer who was a master of the form.
I think the great modern writer of the short story is Alice Munro. You can pick up any book of Alice Munro’s, ‘Runaway’ comes to mind, and be just staggered by her huge talent. I always think ‘How does she do this?’ She is a great, great, great writer living with us now, so just pick up any one of her books, open any one of her stories.
I am delighted to welcome the first National Short Story Week and to recommend among the wealth of stories from around this country and around the world, James Joyce’s ‘The Dead’. Heresy though it may be to admit, I am not an admirer of Joyce’s later, longer fiction so it is a pleasure to suggest this earlier, shorter work in which Joyce sets a middle-aged man’s belated realisation of his wife’s true feelings against a vividly drawn vignette of middle-class Dublin life.
I love reading short fiction, a term which covers both short stories and fantastic tales, largely because I can read a short story as I read poetry – in one go, without moving from my chair, and because if it is a good story it will give me as much to brood about, even in a short space of time, as a long novel would do. Women writers have always excelled in short fiction.
Don’t miss Michèle Roberts’ collection MUD: STORIES OF SEX AND LOVE (Virago, 2010). This is a fabulous collection, and it’s hard to choose one but I adored ‘On the Beach at Trouville’, which has a gorgeous sensuous setting, charged with emotion, and imagines a meeting between Camille Monet, the painter’s wife, and the young Thérèse of Lisieux, a deft and ravishing meditation on the metaphysical encounter between Pleasure and Death. I can’t put Roberts down. She is daring, sexy and clever. Unbeatable!
However charming and witty your style may be, however lyrical and evocative, or sharp and caustic, story-telling is never an innocuous pastime. To tell a story is to seize the world and declare the shape of experience. Beware, you can seduce others, and you can become entranced by your own seduction. Whatever the outcome you are joining in the ancient struggle of saying what is. As for a story to recommend, Samuel Beckett’s ‘First Love’. One of the most bizarre and entertaining elucidations of a perverse state of mind I have ever come across.
Jonathan Telfer, editor, Writing magazine
A well-written short story can be a powerful, resonant, piece of fiction. There’s an increasing tendency to view novels as the embodiment of fiction, but the precision and verbal dexterity required to relate a full narrative in far fewer words can be much more effective, and linger in the reader’s mind just as long. It’s difficult to single out any one writer, but Chekhov was definitely a master, and has a lot to teach writers trying to perfect the form. And I’ll always have a soft spot for Will Self’s first collection, ‘Quantity Theory of Insanity’: elegant construction, a fierce imagination and sentences to die for.
Here are some more recommendations:
I love the sharp, emotional stories in the newsstand magazines. Often referred to as ‘Womag’ or ‘Magfic’ these gems can be accessed by a wide readership and are designed to entertain. No word is wasted on trying to impress, magazine fiction is accessible enough to read a story in a coffee break. But, be warned: easy reading doesn’t mean easy writing.
I discovered the delight of the short story in my teens, through reading those of a master storyteller: W. Somerset Maugham. Of the writers whose submissions I read, and published, as a fiction editor [on BEST magazine for 16 years], I admired and enjoyed none more than the spellbinding eloquence of Debbie Santangeli.
My favourite short story is ‘Elephant’ by Raymond Carver. It’s so well crafted and the meaning and tenderness behind it seeps through the words like a revelation. My favourite short story writer is Richard Yates. Although better known for his novels, Yates wrote some extraordinary, heartbreaking short stories. The technical skills that he exhibited in his novels were put to even more powerful effect in his short stories.